You Are What You Eat


Whenever a person consumes healthier meals and therefore less calories, according to a new study on mice at the NYU Langone Medical Center, they could be lengthening their lives.

Using female mice, scientists fed one group of mice a diet of pellets containing a high amount of calories, while feeding another group of mice a diet of pellets containing 30% less calories. The hippocampus and the region surrounding it in the brains of the mice were then examined for expression of aging-genes throughout various stages of maturity. The results of the study, while not entirely applicable to humans, has shown that the mice that ate the lower calorie diets had less expression of aging genes and had less risk of chronic illnesses such as hypertension and stroke.

“The study does not mean calorie restriction is the ‘fountain of youth,’ but that it does add evidence for the role of diet in delaying the effects of aging and age-related disease.” Stated Stephen D. Ginsberg, a researcher involved with the study. The study examined more than 10,000 genes related to aging, which is a much larger amount than that previously studied by researchers. While the study was performed on mice, the results could be similar in humans, and the researched performed by Dr. Ginsberg and others should serve as a warning for our ever-indulgent world of fast food and high caloric intake.


Magnetizing the Game of Football

As more and more concussions have plagued Football, from the high-school level to that of the NFL, it is known that change must occur, and fast. Along with creating temporary memory loss, concussions have created long-term health problems for football players that hurt them for the rest of their lives. This article highlights the innovative invention of magnetized football helmets that repel each other to decrease the impact into the helmet.

Up until now, the only real idea with respect to reducing the amount of concussions has been to “disperse the impact energy after the impact’s already occurred.” Neuroscientist Raymond Colello believes that magnets would lower the impact before the collisions occur, thus reducing the amount of concussions in football.

The Brain

Although the magnets haven’t been tested in football helmets yet, there have been several experiments verifying the magnets’ effectiveness. The article talks about how, with players running up to 20 mph on the field, players can receive impact forces of up to 150 g’s; this is terrifying because concussions occur at an impact of 100 g’s. Colello argues that the only way to lower the 100,000 people who receive concussions playing football every year is to put magnets in their helmets.

Using very powerful magnets made in China that weigh about .3 lbs, Colello measured that two magnets beside each other repel each other with about 100 pounds of force. After testing the magnets by attaching them to weights and dropping them from 48 inches, he recored that dropping a helmet and it hitting a stationary object would create 120 g’s of force. With these magnets in the helmets, the impact force would be under 100 g’s, which is enough of a difference to stop a concussion from occurring.

Of course Colello recognizes that there are different levels of football with different amounts of contact. The powerful magnets cost about $50 to $100, but for younger players, Colello recommends less powerful, cheaper magnets that will still help in preventing concussions. He is anxiously awaiting customized magnets that will fit into helmets and allow him to begin testing the magnets with dummy’s, and then eventually real people!

I am completely in support of changes in the technology of football helmets! Concussions have become more and more common as football players have become stronger, and concussions have also proven to be detrimental to the health of many athletes. Articles such as these are very exciting, and I expect big improvements in preventing concussions in years to come. What is your take on putting magnets in football helmets?

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Stop Taking Notes

Put down your pencils. Stop taking notes. Scientists have recently proven that you are less likely to remember something once you write it down. Now you all have scientific explanations for not bringing a backpack to school. Scientists began by researching the effects of technology on our memories. Unsurprisingly, they concluded that people who saved information on the computer were less likely to remember it than those who were told the facts verbally. More of this study can be seen in the article “Poor Memory, Blame Google”. It brings up a larger concern; what will the mental capacities of our society come to in our increasingly technological age? This brought Professor Susan Greenfield to investigate the affects of all information processing tactics and their effect on human memory.

She began with the most simple and popular of memory methods, note taking. They split a population of undergraduate students into 2 groups, one that took notes and one that relied on straight memory. They showed them pairs of cards and instructed them to memorize the location. One group wrote it down and the other did not. After the study time, the note-taking group had their notes taken away and the full group was tested on the cards’ location. Surprisingly, the note-taking group performed very poorly in the exercise, far underperforming the memory group.

The scientists concluding that by taking notes, the students were relying on an external form of storage rather than their own synapses. So keep those pencils down, your memory will thank you.

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“Pink Noise” Improves Sleep

Insomnia affects nearly ten percent of Americans. A survey of more than seven thousand people found that 23% exhibited signs of insomnia and estimated that lack of sleep costs the country 63 billion dollars annually in lost productivity. Some preliminary studies have suggested that applying a gentle current to the brain might ameliorate this issue, but the idea has been understandably unpopular among potential patients.

In an effort to find another method to ameliorate insomnia, researchers conducted a study of of “pink noise,” a type of noise with a power spectrum that is inversely proportional to its frequency. It is called pink noise because visible light within this spectrum appears pink in color. In executing their study, the scientists had eleven volunteers spend two nights in their sleep lab, one while pink noise matched to their brain waves was played and one in silence. Before they went to sleep, they were showed pairs of words and asked to memorize them. The volunteers were also hooked up to EEGs so that their brains could be monitored while they slept.

During the night with pink noise playing, the researchers recorded prolonged deep sleep and increased size of the  wavelengths in the volunteers’ brains. These slow brain waves are connected with memory retention and “information processing,” which was reflected in the researchers results. The volunteer sleepers performed better in the memory exercise when the pink noise had played as they slept.

The scientists involved in this study emphasize that the pink noise was matched to the brain waves of the patients, and that further research and development could lead to tools to improve sleep and even enhance brain activity while awake. Entitled Auditory Closed-Loop Stimulation of the Sleep Slow Oscillation Enhances Memory, the study was published in Neuron.

Caffeine Enhances Memory in Bees

Photo credits to Treesha Duncan at

Researchers recently discovered that honeybees get a memory boost from caffeine, both short-term and long-term. In their study, honeybees that consumed a solution with sugar and caffeine were three times more likely to remember a flower’s scent than honeybees that consumed a solution with just sugar. Three times as many bees that drank the first solution remembered the scent a day later and twice as many bees remembered the scent after three days.

This connection does not just help bees with their “foraging prowess” but also benefits plants that contain caffeinated nectar. According to lead researcher Dr Geraldine Wright, bees that drink the caffeine-laced nectar will carry the coffee pollen to other plants, leading to greater pollination.

Researchers found that the nectar of coffee and citrus plants contains low levels of caffeine. Caffeine generally acts as a defense mechanism in plants with its bitter and unappealing taste, so the presence of caffeine in the nectar surprised Phil Stevenson of the Royal Botanic Gardens. However, the nectar of these plants contained just enough caffeine to affect bee behavior, and not enough to give a bitter taste.

So what does this correlation between caffeine and bees have to do with us?This project was funded by the Insect Pollinators Initiative, as populations of bees have been declining. Understanding  the preferences of bees could provide clues to reinvigorating the species, protecting the balance of our natural ecosystems and agriculture.

The study will also allow scientists further comprehension into how caffeine affects the brain. Although honeybee brains and human brains clearly differ, at the cellular and genetic level, they function similarly. Thus, Dr. Julie Mustard of Arizona State University concludes, “we can use the honeybee to investigate how caffeine affects our own brains and behaviors.” Perhaps their study can explain why many people drink coffee while studying. What do you think?



Forget about it!

What is the earliest memory that you can remember? Is it a good memory or a bad one? Hopefully it’s a good one. Recent studies have shown, however, that the brain has two ways of coping with bad memories.

Photo by Reigh LeBlanc

Students are taught in school that in order to “remember” something, there are a series of chemical reactions throughout the brain that allows you to find the memory you are looking for. But if you have a bad memory, how do you stop the reaction and forget?

Dr. Roland Benoit is a “cognitive neuroscientist at the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in England.” He and his team studied how one can stop these bad memories. They found that the brain uses two mechanisms. First, the brain can simply “block out the memory.” The other mechanism is to “recall a substitute memory.”

Dr. Benoit studied the outcome of MRI scans when participants were told to associate different words. They were first told to associate the words “beach” and “Africa.” Next, they were told to associate the words “beach” and “snorkel” (forgetting about “Africa.” Dr. Benoit and his team found that the left prefrontal cortex of the brain works with the hippocampus (the “hippocampus is an area of the brain connecting to conscious remembering”). When the group was told to forget about Africa, and focus on snorkel, the prefrontal cortex inhibited the function of the hippocampus. Thus, the brain has a mechanism built in to allow humans to virtually block out memories.

This study shows that there are different techniques to block out memories, especially if they are bad memories. Every human is going to have a different mechanism when it comes to blocking out memories. If you would rather replace a memory with something else or completely block out a memory, the choice is yours.

But I Studied!

Night Before Test: Oh, I studied sooo much, I think I’m ready for the test tomorrow.

Right Before Test: Yes, I’m going to ace this thing!

During the Test: …..

After the Test: What the @#$%?

Taken by Yasmin Kibria

Some of us may not have the best studying techniques, but it’s not just us who tend to undermine the power of repeated studying.  A recent study by UCLA shows that “students not only underestimate the power of continual study and repetition, but that they tend to overestimate their knowledge of material.”

This was determined by performing a study using a large group of college students where they were shown a list of word pairs, and were asked to give an estimate of how well they knew the material and how well they would test if they studied the material regularly.  A a majority of the volunteers overestimated their abilities, but underestimated the fact that they’d do better if givern time and repeated exercise.

This study is also supported by current research by Nate Kornell, an assistant professor of psychology at Williams College and Robert Bjork of the University of California, Los Angeles.  In their paper they write: “To manage one’s own conditions of learning effectively requires gaining an understanding of the activities and processes that do and do not support learning.”

In psychology, this thinking about thinking is called metacognition.  Performing a similar experiment, Kornell and Bjork found again, that poeple are under confident in their learning abilities and overconfident in their memories.

Just as we’re getting ready to go to college (!!!), it’s important to note the power of studying on a regular basis.

Brain Stimulation Improves Spatial Memory!


Credit: taod Flickr

In a recent article, the NY Times discusses scientists’ new findings on how to improve memorythrough electrical stimulation. In a study covered by the New England Journal of Medecine, epilepsy  patients were stimulated by getting electrodes inserted into their brain as they were being prepared for surgery. Although these tests are nonconclusive, these patients showed an incredible improvement in spatial memory .

In addition, scientists recently concluded that damage associated with Alzheimer’s Disease beings in the entorhinal cortex , the same area of the brain from the electrode-stimulation study. This is very big news because, with more tests done, this could be a big step towards treating (or curing) memory disorders, such as Alzheimer’s.

Researchers and scientists immediately jumped into another study that takes place in the University of California (Los Angeles). Foccused on the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus , the researchers inserted more electrodes into a small group of epileptic patients, and had them play Crazy Taxi. So as you know, Crazy Taxi is a video game where you have to drive up to people “hailing a taxi” on the sidewalk and drive them to a certain destination on the map in a limited amount of time. After the brain stimulation, the patients’ scores were dramatically higher, being able to navigate the map more easily, due to their improvement of spatial memory.

Whether this answers the question of Alzheimer’s or not, finding a way to improve memory is extremely beneficial in many other cases or disorders. All scientists can do now is take advantage of this recent finding, and perform as many more tests as they can, and hopefully they will come across even more cures to many more memory malfunctions.

But I Just Looked That Up!


credit: crystaljingsr user on Flickr

Did you ever look something up on Google and forget it five seconds later?

Recent studies show that the use of online databases (Google) is affecting the way people remember information. Because everything is displayed on the Internet for maximum public consumption, more people are finding that they can easily recall where they have found certain information rather than what the information actually said. In other words, databases like Google have become a primary form of human’s Transactive Memory.

This is a sign that our brains are adapting to our environments. As technology becomes more of a vital part of humans’ every day life, our brains begin to alter the way we handle the information, and find ways to adapt. Memory works through levels of processing, which can be summed up in Organization, Distinctiveness, Effort, and Elaboration. The problem with having information at our fingertips using Google or Yahoo is that people simply don’t have to exert the effort to find this information and understand it anymore.

This new information may change the way professors teach certain classes. Rather than ask for memorization of facts, professors should require a certain level of understanding and a more thorough way of thinking information through.

What about you? Have YOU ever looked something up on Google or yahoo, maybe for a test that started in two minutes, and totally forgotten it?

For more information on the cognitive consequences of Internet databases on our memories, click here.